FAREWELL TO THE PROMISED LAND

I was born in 1942 in Edgware on the outskirts of London and following my schooling at a local non-Jewish primary school, (at the time there were no Jewish schools in the area) went to Carmel College. I then at the age of 20 took a First Class Honours degree at King’s College London University in Science and three years later was awarded a doctorate in Chemistry.

I had always been interested in Jewish education and whilst studying for my doctorate took over a local Sunday morning Talmud Torah which had gone down to just 3 pupils. Over the course of nearly three years, I succeeded in building it up to nearly 100 pupils. The important thing was that this Talmud Torah became popular at a time when Hebrew classes in England were, generally speaking, unpopular.

In 1967 came the Six Day War, during which the areas of Judea and Samaria (called by the world the “West Bank”) were liberated by Israel. In the following year, under the leadership of Rabbi Moshe Levinger, Jews again took up residence in Hebron, City of the Patriarchs, and I joined this group. The left wing government in Israel was not very pleased with this settlement and limited the settlers to students at the Yeshivah there. A Yeshivah requires cooks and cleaners and so the women and unmarried girls performed these functions. Amongst these unmarried girls was one, who after about a year became my wife. We were married in the courtyard of the Military Compound in September 1969 and received many telegrams of congratulations, from, amongst others, Moshe Dayan and Yigal Alon.

The government had hoped that by limiting the settlers to studying in the Yeshivah and not working, they would soon tire and leave Hebron. What the government did not realise was that they had created the ideal conditions for learning Torah, and the Yeshivah prospered - not financially but spiritually. I had a number of years of productive learning and after a searching examination received a Rabbinical diploma from some leading Jerusalem Rabbis including Rabbi Mordecai Eliyahu, who a few years later became the Chief Rabbi of Israel.

The aim of the settlers was not to remain cramped in a very small area of the Military Compound but to re-establish a Jewish City in and near the ancient Hebron. After much pressure, the Government acquiesced and in 1970 began building Kiryat Arba. By the autumn of 1971, the first buildings were ready for occupation.

As I said earlier, I had always had an interest in Jewish education and I felt that I wanted to spend a few years (which eventually expanded to nearly seven!) promoting Jewish education in England, before I finally settled down with my family in Israel. I felt that 1971 was the ideal time to go to England for this purpose. Kiryat Arba was already a fact and I had only one child who was a baby.

In the spring of 1971, there appeared in the “Jewish Chronicle” of London an advertisement for a Director of Jewish Studies at the King David High School in Liverpool. The wording of the advertisement made it seem a challenging position and I decided to apply. I cannot remember how this “Jewish Chronicle” came into my possession, but it changed my life and the life of my family for at least the next seven years, if not longer.

At that period, home computers were a thing of the future and I had no English typewriter. I thus took my letter of application and went to a typist in Jerusalem who typed English. He said he was busy at the time and could not then type it. I begged him and he eventually relented and typed the application which I then posted. The Headmaster sent a speedy reply saying that the Governors were interested and I should send them the names of referees who could vouch for my experience in education. I sent them some names and since in those days, there was neither e-mail nor fax and even telephone calls to England were very expensive, I gave the name of my father as a go-between.

A few weeks later I received a letter from the Headmaster saying that they had received answers from my referees but in view of the importance of the position they wanted one of the Governors, Henry Lachs, who would be in Jerusalem a few weeks later, to meet with me. The Headmaster also mentioned to my father, perhaps unintentionally, that Lachs had full authority to offer me the position. As we shall see, this piece of information was very important to me.

Soon after, I received a letter from Henry Lachs saying that he would be in a certain hotel in Jerusalem from a certain date and that I should contact him there. However, when I came to contact this hotel, they told me no-one of that name was staying there. After making some inquiries, I discovered that he was staying in an apartment in the religious Bayit Vegan neighbourhood of Jerusalem.

It was then about a week before Tisha B’Av. This is a far from ideal time for an interview. One cannot cut one’s hair, one cannot put on freshly laundered clothes nor wear one’s best clothes. I therefore telephoned Henry Lachs and suggested that we should meet a few days after Tisha B’Av, to which he agreed.

I am normally very punctual, but to make extra sure, on the day we fixed our meeting, 4 August, I left the house with plenty of spare time. I took a bus from the centre of Jerusalem to Bayit Vegan. I was not acquainted with the area but I understood the final destination of the bus was Bayit Vegan. However, after a time I noticed to my consternation that the bus had returned to the centre of Jerusalem. Apparently it had reached Bayit Vegan and immediately returned. I then saw I would be late for my appointment. To minimise this lateness, I hailed a taxi. I arrived at the address where the Lachs family were staying and apologised for being late.

At the time I knew very little about the school and its religious standards, but I was very happy to see that Henry Lachs was wearing a capel. We had a long discussion and I asked him a number of questions about the School and the Community. For example, I asked who I would be responsible to and he told me the Headmaster. I asked how many lessons I would be teaching each week but he couldn’t answer this question. When I asked whether I would be responsible for Modern Hebrew, he told me that it was a different department. He also gave me a summary of the religious facilities in Liverpool. He told me that the Governors had discussed flying me over to Liverpool for an interview but he told them that he felt this to be superfluous.

At first Henry Lachs said that he would report back to the Governors who would let me know their decision. I told Lachs that I knew he had full authority to offer me the appointment. I insisted that I needed to know then and there “yea or nay.”

This was not stubbornness on my part. The move to Kiryat Arba was imminent and those who wanted to move there had already been given housing contracts to sign. I could not delay this any longer. Therefore I had to know immediately whether or not I would be going to Liverpool.

Henry Lachs gave me a positive answer and I told him that I must have it in writing. Amongst other things I told him I wanted a three year contract. Without this I could arrive in Liverpool and the Governors might not like “the shape of my nose” and tell me to leave immediately. I also insisted that all my travelling and removal expenses be paid by the school. Henry Lachs immediately agreed to all of these demands. We arranged that I would have to start work by 1 January 1972.

On returning to Kiryat Arba, I immediately began to make my arrangements for moving to Liverpool. I had planned to move soon after the Sukkot Festival. I went to a travel agent and booked tickets with El-Al. But in those days it was not so simple - one also had to pay a travel tax. So off I went to the respective government office to pay the travel tax. That was not the end of the story. A few weeks later the Israeli currency was devalued against the dollar. Since the ticket was fixed in dollars, I had to go back to the travel agent to pay the difference. This also affected the size of the travel tax and so back to the government office to pay the difference!

I also had to find a firm who transported effects abroad. At the time I did not have much furniture to transport. Most of my effects were books, crockery and cutlery, clothing, linen and Sukkah poles. The carriers found a big crate to pack all my things in, with the exception of the Sukkah poles. The latter had to be packed separately. Amongst my effects were a refrigerator and a washing machine, which there was no point in taking to England and I sold these things to one of the Rabbis at the Yeshivah.

A few weeks before Rosh Hashanah, a group of English speaking tourists came to visit us in the Military Compound. I was asked to address them and the person introducing me, possibly the late Chaim Mageni, told them that I would soon be going to Liverpool. After I had spoken to this group, one of the men approached me and said that he was a Rabbi in Liverpool. On my asking him his name he said he was Rabbi Woolf, who was Rabbi of the Princes Road Synagogue.

The families in the Military Compound moved to Kiryat Arba immediately before and after Rosh Hashanah and my family therefore arranged to spend the last few weeks with my wife’s aunt who lived in Jerusalem. We arrived there between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. That Yom Kippur, I went to pray at Yeshivat Hakotel in the Old City of Jerusalem, which was about 40 minutes walk from the apartment of my wife’s aunt.

I returned home after Yom Kippur and found my wife just about to go into hospital. She was in the seventh month of pregnancy and suddenly began to have labour pains. That night she gave birth to a girl who was immediately put in an incubator, but only survived for two days. The reason for this premature delivery soon became evident. My wife had jaundice and had to remain in hospital for a few weeks. This naturally delayed our departure for England until the beginning of November.

My daughter aged just over a year, travelled in the airplane in a cardboard box on the window sill of the plane. The stewardess had put some cushions in the box but my daughter kept throwing them out.

A minyan for Minchah was arranged on the journey and I recollect that during the service we crossed over the English coastline. We arrived at London Airport and were met by both sets of parents and we then went to my parents’ house in Edgware, which is on the outskirts of London.

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